Contributed by Daniel Lee
This year — with the championships moved from September to Memorial Day weekend — I headed back to beautiful South Carolina. Only this time I carried with me boxes of my resulting book, “The Belgian Hammer: Forging Young Americans into Professional Cyclists.” It’s all about the new generation of American cycling stars and their hard road to the top of the sport.
After 115 miles, the race was decided by inches.
And as I baked in the Southern sun watching Monday’s 115-mile USA Cycling Professional Road Race National Championship, I also was selling my book in the expo area just 300 meters from the finish line in downtown Greenville. “Always see the beauty in bikes,” I’d write as I’d sign books.
The cool thing is, anyone following the day’s race could see the beauty of bicycle racing on full display.
Professional cycling collectively seems incapable of escaping doping scandals. We all watched or heard about the 60 Minutes report. Yet races such as Monday’s provide reminders why we love this sport.
Hincapie seemed to have it won, but Busche found something special somewhere quite deep and managed to come around the Greenville resident on the line.
In a photo finish, Team Radio Shack’s Matthew Busche of Wisconsin beat Greenville’s hometown favorite, George Hincapie, to become national champion. Busche, who in recent years has made a quick ascent from elite amateur for formidable pro, was still coming to grips with his accomplishment after the race: “It hasn’t sunk in really. I don’t know what the feeling of sinking in is or when it will come.”
The decisive break: Busche, Van Garderen, Hincapie, and King.
Hincapie had marked Busche’s jump in the final kilometer from fellow breakaway companions Ted King of Liquigas-Cannondale and Tejay VanGarderen of HTC-Highroad. Hincapie pounced, but as the final meters approached Busche recovered to win by inches. Hincapie was gracious in defeat. “I gave it everything I possibly had. It wasn’t like I can say that I saved something here, I saved something there. I put it all on the line,” he said. “I’m proud of my effort and I’m proud of Matthew’s effort…. I’m disappointed I didn’t win, but he’s a suitable U.S. champion.”
Busche talks about his win.
For Busche, who also took third behind Dave Zabriskie of Garmin-Cervelo and Tom Zirbel of Jamis-Sutter Home, took water from his mom and wife in the feed zone Monday to keep hydrated on a day where the temperatures climbed into the 90s.
The heat took its toll. “With one lap to go, I had just the most ferocious cramp,” Ted King of the final circuit through downtown Greenville after four climbs up Paris Mountain. “It’s like, fingers crossed: Please go away, please go away, please go away,” King said of his untimely cramp.
Busche, Hincapie, King. An impressive podium.
The race was brutal and tactical. Brent Bookwalter of the BMC Racing Team made it into the race’s longest breakaway to take the pressure of chasing off his squad. And after he was caught, Bookwalter road near the front to hamper the chase of Hincapie. Bookwalter would go on to finish eighth. Busche knew he was with formidable breakaway companions but decided he didn’t want to risk all with an early attack.
Only 115 miles to go…
Ted King, racing in Greenville with just one Liquigas teammate, even kept his sense of humor in the searing heat. “In the breakaway, I was talking to I think George. I was like, ‘you better watch out: We have 50 percent of our team in the breakaway right now,’” King said.
What more could you ask for in a bike race?
It was indeed hot.
Perhaps, the most optimistic aspect of Monday’s race was to see all of the U.S. ridings in their 20s – Busche, VanGarderen, Bookwalter and Ben King among them – playing leading roles. They are the future.
A salute to one of Greenville’s other promising young talents from Furman University – Andy Baker.
Just as I wrote in those books, always look for the beauty in bikes. I found it again in Greenville.
Daniel Lee working hard.
1. Matthew Busche (Wauwatosa, WI/Team Radio Shack) 4:28:02
2. George Hincapie (Greenville, SC/BMC Racing Team) 4:28:02
3. Ted King (Brentwood, N.H./Liquigas-Cannodale) 4:28:04
4. Tejay VanGarderen (Fort Collins, CO/HTC-Highroad) 4:28:09
5. Kyle Wamsley (Alburtis, Pa./Bissell Cycling) 4:29:31
6. Alex Candelario (Reno, Nev./Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) 4:29:32 7. Kenneth Hanson (Santa Barbara, Calif./Jelly Belly pb Kenda) 4:29:32
8. Benjamin King (North Garden, Va./Team RadioShack) 4:29:32
9. Brent Bookwalter (Athens, Ga./BMC Racing) 4:29:32
10. Chase Pinkham (Salt Lake City, Utah/Bissell Cycling) 4:29:33
Daniel Lee is author of “The Belgian Hammer: Forging Young Americans into Professional Cyclists.” The book is available for the Kindle and pre-order for print copies on Amazon.com. You can follow Lee on Twitter @dleehoss.